How a Dead Dog Loves a King
The Bethlehem Institute Graduation | Minneapolis
The following is a lightly edited transcript of the twelve-minute audio.
Greetings from Cambridge, England, and 36 Selwyn Gardens at Tyndale House.
God has been very good to us here to give us almost three months now of fairly productive labors, mingled with some trips here and there to Saint Andrews and to London and other places for Noël and Talitha. I just finished writing the 28th chapter of the book What Jesus Demands from the World, and I hope to be able to wrap that up this week, and then kick back to a more leisurely pace of study and reflection on some other issues.
But what I want to do for these few minutes that we have together, as much as I would love to be with you face to face, is to exhort you graduates on how a dead dog loves a king. That is, I want you to love Jesus in a certain way. And the way I put it is how a dead dog loves a king, and you will see why in just a moment.
Here is the background for 2 Samuel 19:24–30. Absalom has led a rebellion against his father David, and David has been driven out of Jerusalem. Ziba, David’s servant — and the overseer of Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son — has cheated Mephibosheth and deserted him and left him behind with Absalom, even though he wanted to go with Ziba. Ziba lied to David and told David that Mephibosheth had been complicitous with Absalom. Now Absalom is dead, and David is returning to Jerusalem and meets Mephibosheth whom he thinks has been a traitor.
Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king. He had neither taken care of his feet nor trimmed his beard nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came back in safety. And when he came to Jerusalem to meet the king, the king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” He answered, “My lord, O king, my servant deceived me, for your servant said to him, ‘I will saddle a donkey for myself, that I may ride on it and go with the king.’ For your servant is lame. He has slandered your servant to my lord the king. But my lord the king is like the angel of God; do therefore what seems good to you. For all my father’s house were but men doomed to death before my lord the king, but you set your servant among those who eat at your table. What further right have I, then, to cry to the king?” And the king said to him, “Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land.” And Mephibosheth said to the king, “Oh, let him take it all, since my lord the king has come safely home.”
Now if I were you, brothers, I would underline that last sentence as one of the most magnificent statements of love in all the Bible and a beautiful prototype of how we should love Jesus. Oh let him take it all since my lord the king has come safely home.
So Mephibosheth was deserted and treated unfairly by Ziba. When David has to decide, he doesn’t know what to say, and so he splits the difference, which is distinctly unfair for Mephibosheth. And in spite of all that, Mephibosheth cares nothing for the inheritance, because he loves the king so much. Oh let him take it all since my lord the king has come safely home.
So my question is this: What goes into making love like this? And I see at least five things here.
One, in the middle of verse 27: great admiration for the king. “My lord the king is like the angel of God.”
Second, the end of verse 27: utter submission to the king’s wisdom. “David, do therefore, what seems good to you.”
Number three, verse 28: being amazed by grace. Mephibosheth says: “For all my father’s house were but men doomed to death before my lord the king, but you set your servant among those who eat at your table.” Mephibosheth had never gotten over the fact that he was the grandson of David’s sworn enemy Saul, and David took him and made him like a son to eat at his own table. He never got over it.
Number four, the end of verse 28: a sense of having no rights or claims. He says: “What further right have I, then, to cry to the king?”
And then, finally: a deep sense of unworthiness. And here is where I get the phrase how a dead dog loves a king.
Back in 2 Samuel 9:7, David says to Mephibosheth: “Don’t be afraid. For I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father and you shall eat at my table always.” And to this Mephibosheth responds, “What is your servant that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”
So my question is, How can dead dogs like us love a king? And the answer, brothers, is let’s recognize that we really are dead dogs and that we have been set at the table of the king.
Remember the story Jesus told? He was at the house of a Pharisee, and the Pharisee was nitpicking because a prostitute had come in. She wet Jesus’s feet with her tears. She anointed him with oil. She wiped him with her hair and the Pharisee was really irritated. And Jesus said, “If a money lender forgave two debtors, one who owed him 5,000 dollars and another 50, which would love him more?” And he said, “Well, the one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And Jesus agreed and said, “So, you see this woman? I entered your house, and you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss. But from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.” And then Jesus concluded, “She has loved much because she was forgiven much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Brothers, our debt to God is infinite. We are worse than dead dogs in the situation in which find ourselves. We have done far worse than Mephibosheth.
And there is another verse I have thought a lot about recently in Luke 17:10. When you have done all your duty say, “We are unworthy servants.”
So, brothers, I conclude with this: There are many roots of uselessness in the ministry, many causes of doctrinal liberalism and spiritual weakness. And one of the great causes of both is a lack of deep brokenness, a sense that we deserve something, we deserve for life to go better for us. We deserve to get a good job, we deserve to have a better marriage, we deserve to not get cancer. This makes us spiritual weaklings. Often in the guise of savvy leaders, it leads to false doctrine and bad instincts for what is true and biblical. And worst of all, it destroys love for Jesus.
We truly are all dead dogs. We are worse than Mephibosheth, and we have been loved. We have been set regally at the King’s table.
Brothers, my desire, my prayer for every graduate is that you would love Jesus like Mephibosheth loved David, only more. When you are offered riches in this world — and when Jesus finally comes back, when you are offered material rewards in the age to come — I hope that you will say to Jesus, “Oh, let somebody else take it all since my Lord the King has come safely home.”